Ethnic tensions: Where being skilled is a sin

Published: July 4, 2011
Thousands flee Balochistan as cycle of violence escalates.

Thousands flee Balochistan as cycle of violence escalates.


“Will we able to play on the roads where we are going?” Ahmer’s son asks his father. Ahmer’s family is one of hundreds that have left Balochistan in the face of threats and violence, making their way to their home provinces as the situation deteriorates for outsiders and settlers.

Of late, life in Quetta for the Ahmer family had been reduced to staying indoors for the children and keeping a low profile. At the end it had become dangerous to stay on.

“One of my sons once had a fight in school and the principal told me not to send him the next day. When I asked why, she said that the other party was looking for my son and me, with armed men, because I was an outsider,” said Ahmer

That is when they decided to pack their belongings and move out. Now the children play noisily on the roads in Lahore but in his heart Ahmer feels he is not happy. A part of him longs for Quetta and for all that he left behind.

Today Ahmer works at a bank in Lahore and tries to trace his roots in the city his father left in the 1950s. Looking back, Ahmer says it is a decision he lives to regret on different levels.  He leaves behind childhood friends in Quetta. And looks for relatives and friends his father left behind.

It is a difficult process of picking up the pieces. In Ahmer’s case, the migration was less traumatic as he had a job waiting. Most of those who leave Quetta and other parts of Balochistan have no such support. They depend on the goodwill of family and friends.

Ahmer has not forgotten Quetta. He is particularly hurt by the hateful sentiments in his final days there. “I do not understand why there is this discrimination. Is being more skilled a sin?”

As Ahmer spoke, another old friend from Quetta walked in. This friend had also migrated to Lahore. “You had so much property, what happened?” asked Ahmer. His friend replied that all had been sold. Like Ahmer, many more are trying to start a new life in Punjab and Sindh.

In May, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a fact finding mission. The report highlights that insurgents have murdered settlers in targeted killings with impunity. A majority of these murders are on the basis of ethnicity and belief.

In a number of districts, large areas have been “cleansed” of settler populations. The report recommends that the provincial government not remain a silent spectator as people are killed daily.

Baloch leaders, however, defend their position. Speaking on the phone from Quetta, Dr Jahanzaib Jamaldini of the Balochistan National Party says “the feeling exists because of all the military operations”. He says that “outsiders settled in Balochistan have isolated themselves too by supporting non-Baloch political parties”.

“If they don’t consider us as one of their own, how can the people of Balochistan consider them otherwise?”

Senator Khudai Noor Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz feels that the hatred can go away if all those involved in injustices are brought to task. “It all started after Musharraf killed Nawab Akbar Bugti. And till we do not prosecute him, the situation will remain tense.”

According to the senator, more than 100,000 people have migrated out of Balochistan. This includes skilled professionals, labourers and even government officials. “People are being targeted here all the time. The government is doing nothing about it, but condemning it,” he says.

While there is no independent confirmation of this exodus, there are fears that the number will rise in the coming months as hopes of some political solution to the crisis in Pakistan’s largest province start to fade.

[NOTE: Ahmer’s name has been changed due to his safety concerns]

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • saqib cheema
    Jul 4, 2011 - 11:35AM

    thank you ET, your are the only one who has bothered to highlight the plight of punjabi settlers who have been killed in balochistan and over a lakh have been forced to flee balochistan selling their properties at pennies.The militant groups in balochistan have killed over 1200 punjabi civilians in balochistan and have forced the rest to run away.Why our news channels deliberately remain silent over this genocide i do not understand.But still you have done this first article,let’s hope more media groups follow suit and give fair coverage,not just keep on giving all the coverage to the missing people while staying dead quiet about settler’s murders.Recommend

  • asad naeem
    Jul 4, 2011 - 11:48AM

    why has our media chosen to remain silent at the ethnic cleansing of punjabi civilians in balochistan? thousands have been deliberately targetted and murdered but not a word from our otherwise hyper anchors; nothing from our columnists,bloggers or tweeps.akbar bugti’s death and the missing persons have gotten thousands of hours of media airtime but not a single minute on the deliberate killings of punjabis.Atleast now, tribune has decided to present this side of the story also which should be appreciated.Recommend

  • mazbut62
    Jul 4, 2011 - 11:53AM

    The history dates back to the time when THE HOLY PROPHET had to leave Mecca in the middle of the night, evading KAFIRS.
    Imam Hussain had to leave Madina ,fearing muslims themselves..
    Imam Khomeni had to live in exile for a decade and leave his family behind.

    what is special about AHMER“s story ?Recommend

    Jul 4, 2011 - 1:14PM




  • Tribune Reader
    Jul 4, 2011 - 2:23PM

    God Bless You Express Tribune for Finally Finally building the Courage to Write about this Ethnic Cleansing of Punjabi and Urdu Speaking Settlers in the province of Balochistan. Baloch nationalist and seperatist groups along with their sympathizers have the last 7 years have been brutally targeting settler communities. No one in the media has had the courage to bring it up, the whole Pakistan broadcast and print media has been a Pro Baloch Propoganda, all they can do is talk about suffering of the Baloch people, and they are only doing this because of their Anti Govt attitude, the Baloch in reality are suffering far more due to fuedalism in that province as opposed to the Govt of Pakistan. I myself have met dozens of families that have fled ethnic cleansing in the Province. Please do more to high light the suffering of settler communities in Balochistan. Recommend

    Jul 4, 2011 - 3:23PM

    even in family brothers fight and mother sees

    mother know they are children its naatural they fight,

    but mother dont want brothers hate each other.

    GOD BLESS YOURecommend

  • Jul 4, 2011 - 3:29PM

    I am surprised that ET has only highlighted one-half of the story. Since early 1950s, the Baloch have been repeatedly subjugated through army (comprising of mostly Punjabi) and subsequent governments support for such actions (also often dominated by Urdu Speaking and Punjabi elements while in case of Bhutto the Sindhi elements too). In the wake of such military actions, settlers from other provinces come and start living there, not caring to learn local language, understand local customs and cooperate with the locals to improve their living standard.
    How else do you suppose the more Proud Balochis will behave? When the army will open fire on them, they will see Punjabi men firing on them with permission from government that is also full of Punjabi and other ethnic people. Other than firing back on them it is the Punjabi civilians they will see as another target and go after them if they felt the need. The mistakes are of our own making that led the Balochis to this level, so painting them as the bad guy will continue to hurt Pakistan.Recommend

  • Shah
    Jul 4, 2011 - 4:08PM

    The special thing is the law and order, don’t compare us with our beloved prophet. if we had law and order then Ahmer would not have left his home town. if the police were not sleeping or not eating money, today we would have a different Pakistan.
    Just tell me any one respects the police… we all hate them as they are never on the scene of the crime, they will come when its all over.
    To fix the country you have to be strict in Law and order. Even if today the law and order dept start working as per the Islamic law or start doing their jobs properly, with in months Pakistan will be the best country on the face of this earth.Recommend

    Jul 4, 2011 - 4:22PM


  • Zubair
    Jul 4, 2011 - 5:35PM

    It is sad that nationalists have chosen to let balochs be like this.Even though Military have always been wrong in case of Balochistan but these ethnic nationalists are left with no moral values now as they are targeting innocent settlers from Sindh and Punjab.
    Also Mr.Jamaldini is stupid. How come Balochs vote for “supposed” Non-Balochs parties like PPP and PML-N and then he has a decency to say settlers vote for the others.
    Im telling you these Baloch ethnic nationalists are the WORST kind of people in Pakistan,their leaders and children stay in London and Dubai,send their children to Punjab and Sindh for education while living off the resources of Both provinces and then they ORDER their men to fight military,state and settlers.They are never going to get anything unless they change their attitude as well.

    For far too long Pakistani state made mistakes in Balochistan but atleast PPP government and Military are trying hard to win back support there but Alas,these nationalists wont ever understand. I am glad Settlers are moving, In fact Balochistan should be divided,upper balochistan annexed in Khyber Paskhtunkhwa while ALL punjabis and sindhis should move out!Recommend

  • Maria
    Jul 4, 2011 - 5:38PM

    The only people who are targetting other Pakistanis in Baluchistan are anti state agents on the payroll of India and Afghanistan. These agents are sent via Afghanistan to cause trouble in Pakistan. I don’t believe for a second that any Baluch would wish to deprove his or her child of an education by killing all the non Baluch teachers- be they Pashtun, Sindi, Kashmiri or Punjabi. This is all an orchestrated plot to hurt Pakistanis and the border between Afghanistan / Pakistan should be sealed. Then the government can track down these criminals and bring them to justice.Recommend

  • Ali
    Jul 4, 2011 - 5:59PM

    Its not just Baloch who are anti-Punjabi, it is all the other provinces too, as a Punjabi i’m sick of it. And so many of them live in our province unbothered. As a Pakistani we welcome all from our whole country into our province, but then also expect them to welcome my people.

    Punjabi people are gnerally very open hearted and generous people, but all this anti-Punjab feeling now has made me very aware of my Punjabiat and my language and identity. In Lahore i only speak Punjabi even if someone speaks to me in Urdu i will reply in Punjabi (unless the person is a stranger to me or out of province), after all it is only in this province that i can speak my language and be myself without being persecuted, attacked and hackled for my language and identity.

    The feelings of Punjabis will only harden towards other provinces when more and more of our people return home from the other provinces.

    The Muhajirs and Sindhis and Siraikis have been in power for the past many years, at least a decade and they haven’t done anything to help our country. They have robbed it and sold it to the highest bidder and then blame all the problems on Punjab and Punjabis.

    Well i’m getting a bit sick and tired of this, and so are most Punjabi people. The people of other provinces should think what would happen if the people of Punjab came out onto the streets and said no to Pakistan, no to a union with those Punjabi hating provinces and sent all non Punjabis back to wherever they came from?Recommend

  • Asma Ali
    Jul 4, 2011 - 7:02PM

    Punjabi settlers are bieng killed bcause Baloch take them as the representative of Punjabi establishment and secondly in the past they were hired by agencies to collect information about Baloch seperatests since being panjabi they were more trustworthy.The reason of their killings should be laying in abara chock rather then in Quetta.As long long as missing person are being surfaced as mutilated dead bodies.can any one support punjabi settlers in Balochistan?Recommend

  • Zain
    Jul 4, 2011 - 8:52PM

    laugh…….is there any journalistic ethics…. please visit Balochistan Civil Secretariat you can find Punjabiz every where… I know all those who are commenting and saying ethnic cleansing…. Please count that how many baloch were killed and how may Punjabi….. Media always hides the facts.Recommend

  • fus
    Jul 4, 2011 - 9:36PM

    You may feel hurt, since Punjabis are blamed for many issues, correctly or incorrectly, you need to analyze it. Rather than feeling hurt, what have you done, did you ever speak to the ppl of other provinces? Did we ever try to sort out the issues? Unfortunately it has been mostly politicians, Feudal or army officers, bureacrats of Punjab that have played their role to create this ill-will. I am not saying that such ppl from other provines have not done the same, but with bigger population, it has been mostly from Punjab. The problem is incorrect distribution of wealth b/w the people of provinces and within the provinces. The common person of Punjab may not have benefitted but army men, bureacrats , policemen, judges, politicians did, and most of them were from Punjab. It looks worst when these from Punjab did it in other provinces. Even within Punjab, why only northern Punjab was developed or the cant areas? I may be wrong in my analysis, but go and check what happened in East pakistan, even though it had more population. With a bigger province it is obvious that you will have more ppl of Punjab in different federal organizations, but when you don’t get them on merit, are corrupt and more interested in making money, it makes matter worst. Every common person of every province have same issues, like the Islami Ijtamah at Raiwand we should have gathering of new generation to sit together and sort out the issues. Also if we love Pakistan and think that every person have equal rights then having more provinces should not be an issue.Recommend

  • Safir afkhan.
    Jul 4, 2011 - 11:42PM

    Its a shame please get rid of this freaking serdari system mr bhutto shaheed was right
    when he closed all these serdar behind dark sell in sukker sindh i love z a bhutto may
    god bless him and peace.Recommend

  • Hamza Ali Khan
    Jul 5, 2011 - 12:00AM

    Hey yar, no offense but your arguments are vague. Well, it is true that in Punjab, everybody irrespective of ethnicity finds a safe-haven but your other arguments for Punjab being a total ‘innocent goat’ are a little too much to agree. Considering the revenue generation from Karachi and other provinces, the allocation of funds and resources is unjust. The establishment which comprises of the Army and civil bureaucracy are the ones who have robbed the country, not Muhajirs or anyone else for that matter. And it is incumbent here to say that most of the establishment is from Punjab and their open support for Punjab is visible for all to see. The Muhajirs have given this land a lot, and it might be wrong to say that Punjab stands firm for one Pakistan. Does anybody need reminding ‘Khalistan’ here?
    Also it is necessary here to say that what happened in Quetta was totally unjust. Everyone should be able to live wherever he/she desires irrespective of ethnicity. Punjabis contributed in Quetta, and the treatment meted out to them or to any settlers in Quetta was totally hilarious.We are all ‘one’ and unless we don’t realize that, this place is going nowhere. But to address grievances of all, everybody will have to be open at heart and be ready to accept their mistakes. For the Baloch people, it is no doubt that injustices have been ushered onto them. Like for instance, the native Baloch have been deprived of Sui Gas Supply since antiquity while a pipeline was laid from Dera Bugti to Murree a long time ago. Where would we put this act as? At least the locals should have got what they owned before any other province. Recommend

  • Hamza Ali Khan
    Jul 5, 2011 - 12:11AM

    Ma’am you are very mis-guided. Blaming everything on everyone else while failing to recognize the follies within is a crime in itself. Please understand; the Baloch do have reservations and the nationalist parties have indeed resorted to killings. Its mostly been Punjabis and Urdu-Speaking communities who have been targeted. The skilled force belonged to these two ethnicites, and they were targeted. Pashtuns are not that highly-skilled to impart education.So please come to agree with basic facts first rather than blaming India/ Zionist regimes for everything. Yes, they may be supplying dimes, but then who are taking it? Recommend

  • Sameer
    Jul 5, 2011 - 3:01AM

    @ Ali – I think it’s obvious to most that on both sides of the border, Punjabis have an outsized influence, both positive and negative, on each country’s culture. In India, Punjab has some negative aspects: one of the worst male-female baby ratios due to female infanticide and awful water table due to poor farming techniques yet Punjabis in India are the wealthiest people, most successful large community (smaller communities like Parsis, Jains, and Bohras are more successful) and now dominate the culture of India. Bhangra is massively popular as is Punjabi food and clothing. It’s because Punjabis are fun-loving people. Even South Indians want naan served at their wedding while dancing to Jazzy B, Imran Khan, and Punjabi MC.

    I think many Indian Punjabis believe that Pakistani Punjabis have preserved the Punjabi language better than it has been preserved in India and hope that long-term peace between India and Pakistan can allow Punjabis on both sides of the border to help preserve their unique and proud culture.

    That being said, it shocks many Indian Punjabis to see that Southern Punjab has become such a hotbed of terrorism. We always thought of Pakistani Punjab as being the home of Pirs and Sufi Saints and of moderate Islam that our forefathers remember fondly. What went wrong? Zia and the Sharifs but it seems that much more has gone wrong in Punjab.Recommend

  • Tariq
    Jul 5, 2011 - 3:11AM

    What happened to Islam, love and peace, you all hate each otherRecommend

  • Shanzay
    Jul 6, 2011 - 6:30PM

    the writer has given just one side of the story. the actual side that truly matters has been completely left out. balochis have suffered for more than 60 years because of punjab government and the army in particular, the army being controlled by punjabis through out our history. from what i understand, the balochis shouldnt be blamed at all for their anger towards other ethnicities specially punjabis. but because we pakistanis are so messed up and have become wild animals, it is truly sad that innocent people are being blamed and hurt for our masters’ mistakes. Recommend

  • Irfan
    Jul 6, 2011 - 11:12PM

    Dear all
    punjabis r majority working class why the baloch/ sindhi could nt focus on education disasterious thing is when we blame other for our own problem its very easy process r balouch and sindhis r mentally retarded that they allow punjab to drill their gas and mineral without paying any penny when our president is also baloch or BHPB OMV ENI are stupid people who hire punjabis in management position so i advised humbly to my all baloch and sindhis brothers to stop blameing punjab punjab can survive without oil n gasbcz they have their mind active n open where as others r in fantacy of separate identity which is like <dooooooooooooor ka dhol suhanaaaaaaaaaaae"Recommend

  • Jul 7, 2011 - 3:07AM

    I understand that there is a debate going on here regarding punjabi, balochis, sindhi etc. This story was done more to highlight the ethnic divide we live in and need to get ride of. We are all Pakistanis, and I feel that our political class, the army, the judiciary and the bureaucracy who compose of us the public need to erase these lines of ethnicity. Let us be Pakistanis. And get on the same page – it is time that we unite. Otherwise, it may just be too late.Recommend

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